Digital Rebellion 08/05/12
This week’s Tools Spotlight interview is with Digital Rebellion founder and CEO Jon Chappell. With the tagline of “Workflow Efficiency Redefined,” Digital Rebellion has a diverse ecosystem of post-production apps. Jon talks to us about what drove him to start his company and how the controversial FCP X release prompted him to evolve.
What were the first apps you released and what was the response?
The first apps we released were web apps back in 2007. If you recall, the iPhone was initially released without an SDK so the only applications you could run were web apps. Apple created a directory where you could submit your web apps. At that point in time we were unknown and I thought being linked on Apple.com would be a good way of bringing people to the site. On day one our site traffic rocketed 100-fold and we haven’t looked back.
The first desktop application we created was FCS Remover, which was in late 2007. It was pretty basic in those days but it was created in response to demand from users for an official Apple uninstaller that never came.
Many of our products were developed either from problems we have struggled with personally or by noticing common problems experienced by others. We go through many popular NLE manufacturer and user forums on a regular basis and make note of problems and solutions and use it to improve our products.
What are some of your most popular apps, and what are some well-known companies that use them?
We have a large number of useful applications but our two most popular apps are Pro Maintenance Tools for Mac and Cut Notes for iPad. Lots of big companies are using them including Warner Bros, ABC, BBC America, MTV, CNN, Microsoft and others. We have thousands of customers worldwide and almost every major broadcaster in the US is using one or more of our tools.
Your development priorities took a turn with the release of FCP X. What happened and how have you responded?
I think it says a lot that many of the Apple products I initially built my livelihood upon are dead – Xserve, Xserve RAID, Shake, Final Cut Studio, Final Cut Server. I’m not sure if I should put the Mac Pro in that list or not.
About two years ago I took a look at that long and ever-growing list and realized that it’s dangerous to build your business around a single company’s products, especially when that company has a history of killing products with no warning. I therefore started researching the feasibility of supporting other applications in our Pro Maintenance Tools suite and ensured that Pro Media Tools (which was in development at the time) would be multi-NLE. From that point forward, all future products were planned as multi-NLE.
We had a feeling FCP X was going to be controversial even before it was released so we began work on a multi-NLE version of Pro Maintenance Tools a few months before. We really weren’t sure which NLE the industry was going to rally around so we wanted to cover all bases. In the end it turned out that having one product that supports multiple NLEs was useful because the market was left fragmented without a clear winner.
What are the challenges and opportunities of being a multi-platform developer?
After becoming multi-NLE last year we had no plans to develop for other platforms. But we saw that Apple’s recent decisions had split the market and left it fragmented. Some people were sticking with FCP 7 for now, others moving onto FCP X, Avid, Premiere or even away from the Mac platform entirely.
We want to support whatever our customers are using for their everyday work, so we developed a Windows version of Post Haste early this year as a test. Demand was strong and feedback was good, but we still hesitated until Apple’s non-update of the Mac Pro a couple of months ago lit the internet alive with articles for building a Hackintosh or switching to Windows.
The biggest challenge so far has been that we didn’t expect to be taking this route, so our Mac software wasn’t designed with future cross-platform compatibility in mind. We’ve found it easier to rewrite some of the smaller applications from scratch, which ends up being a lot of work initially – but once it’s created it’s not too difficult to maintain two different codebases side by side.
The advantage has been that we can support a wider range of customers. There has been consistent demand for Windows versions of our products from the start and we’re glad for an opportunity to provide maintenance and workflow solutions to more post-production professionals.
High-profile editors have made the switch to the PC platform to some degree – like Walter Biscardi, for instance. What kind of feedback are you getting from users who encourage you to continue down the multi-platform road?
Twitter is a great tool for gauging public opinion. We knew of people who were making the switch and we’d dabbled with a Windows version of Post Haste but hesitated because we weren’t sure how sizeable the market would be. Ultimately, Twitter sentiment after the non-update of the Mac Pro and speaking to several post houses convinced us it was worth it.
Walter Biscardi hasn’t switched entirely to PC, he’s using a combination of PCs and Macs. We feel post-production is becoming more interoperable and less dependent upon particular applications or platforms, so we see this trend of combining NLEs and platforms continuing.
Are there any apps in the pipeline that you can talk about?
We have lots of big things in the pipeline that we’re excited to announce when the time comes, but other than the previously-mentioned Windows ports of our existing products, I can’t really talk about them.
What question(s) do you have for content creators and specifically video editors?
We’re very responsive to user feedback and use it to shape the future of our software, so we’re always keen to hear requests for ways of improving user workflows.
Is there anything I didn’t ask you that you’d like to mention?
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